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Us 7, Afghanistan 7, Iraq 4, Manchin 4, America 4, United 4, Mr. Reid 3, United States 3, Dr. Coburn 3, Mississippi 3, Michigan 3, Mr. Manchin 2, Akaka 2, Mr. Whitehouse 2, Sanders 2, David Mccullough 2, West Virginia 2, Padilla 2, Mr. Sanders 2, Washington 2,
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  CSPAN    Key Capitol Hill Hearings    Speeches from policy makers and  
   coverage from around the country.  

    February 26, 2014
    4:00 - 6:01pm EST  

the presiding officer: the majority leader is recognized. mr. reid: i ask unanimous consent the call of the quorum be terminated. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. reid: mr. president, this morning i came to the senate floor and talked about it's groundhog year. not ground-hog day. what is going on here today is an example of what has been going on with the republican-driven direction of this congress for several years. what are we doing here today? nothing. nothing. under the rules of the senate, cloture was invoked 99-0. and the purpose of that is to get on a bill. it's a shame we had to even file cloture on that, but we did. that takes a couple of days. and then, mr. president, everyone should understand that
when cloture is invoked, there is 30 hours. it is a waste of time, and why are they doing that? why are they causing that? because they don't want to legislate. they want to do anything they can to stop president obama from accomplishing anything. bernie sanders, chairman of the veterans committee, has dedicated his heart and soul to something he believed in and his committee believed in and the veterans committee believed in, improving the life of veterans. we have millions of people who have come home and are coming home from the wars in iraq and afghanistan. they deserve a lot, and the legislation that is on this floor is terrific. it is supported, mr. president, by 26 different veterans' organizations, including the largest, the veterans of foreign wars. here's what the commander of the veterans of foreign wars said earlier today.
and i quote -- "american legion national commander daniel m. dillinger said said today -- that's wednesday -- that sanctions against iran have no place in the united states senate a debate over legislation that aims to expand health care, educational opportunities, employment and other benefits for veterans. mr. president, i ask unanimous consent that his complete statement be made part of the record. he goes --. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. reid: it goes into detail as to how wrong-headed this is that the republicans are trying to divert attention from an issue that is so very, very important to the american people. by their continued obstruction, it has been so detrimental to
our country. mr. president, on another topic, mr. president, i can't say that everyone of the koch brothers ads are a lie but i'll say this -- mr. president, the vast, vast majority of them are. now, enough editorial comments. i am going to read verbatim a column that appeared in today's "hill" magazines -- newspaper i should call it here on the hill. it's entitled "koch brothers ads shameful." let me read this. having a right is not the same thing as income the right and in some instances we have the right to behave immorally. the first amendment gives some people in some circumstances the right to lie. let's set aside whether the billionaire koch brothers have the right to run a flurry of
dishonest ads about obamacare and ask instead whether spending millions of dollars to lie to the american people is the right thing to do. there's no legitimate debate about the integrity of the ads. in louisiana the kochs' political front group placed an ad that features a gloop of louisianans ordering letters from insurance companies with the problems they faced as a result of the affordable care act. except that as abc news has documented the individuals in their ad are not louisianans. they are paid actors not reading actual letters sent by any real insurance company. in other words, nothing about the ad is true. the response from the brothers' organization, i quote, the viewing public is savvy enough to distinguish between someone giving a personal story and something that is emblematic, end of quote.
an editorial comment before i interrupt this op-ed piece. how about that for a response? that's code word for we've got at love money and we'll run ads about anything we want to run ads about. i continue the column. were this an ad for stainmaster carpet, a koch product, federal strailt trade mission guidelines would require the ad to disclose that the person in such an advertisement are not actual consumers, close quote, from the fths. moreover, the ftc would require them to demonstrate these results are -- would require them to either demonstrate that these are results of obamacare are typical or make clear in the ad they are not. needless to say the ad meets none of these requirements thereby conforming to the legal definition of false advertising. not all koch ads feature actors. even those with real people who
were not necessarily factual. witness the attack on representative gary peters, democrat of michigan, who, by the way, is running for the senate in a koch-funded ad featuring a michigan leukemia patient. everyone sympathizes with her struggle, as they should. but neither her bravery nor her suffering makes the word she utters true. they aren't. in the ad the patient claims with obamacare -- quote -- "the out-of-pocket costs are so high it's unaffordable" -- close quote. the detroit news reports the ad makes no mention that the patient successfully enrolled in a new blue cross plan where she's able to retain her university of michigan oncologist and continues to receive the lie-saving chemotherapy. it does not mention her health care premiums are cut in half. "the washington post" glen knessetler did the math.
she saved $6,348 a year on premiums and because obamacare caps out-of-pocket costs for plans at 6,000 $50 she'll be paying at most two dollars more this year for her care. it's hard to call that an unaffordable increase. if it were just these two egregious examples, someone might suggest i'm picking on the koch brothers. i do not always agree with the fact checkers who are sometimes wrong, but it's striking that political fact reviewed 11 ads placed by the brothers' organization and not a single one was rated true or mostly true, nine were rated false or worse. so i return to my original question. whether their constitutional rights are the koch brothers' right to degrade our democratic process with lies, are they right to use tactics that are by legal definitions deceptive and dishonest, are voters choosing
a candidate due any less respect in honesty than consumers buying a carpet? we in the consulting prochtion -- this column is written by a nationally known known -- profession, this yum is written by a nationally known pollster named mark melman -- need to ask ourselves hard questions about where the line is we want crossed. when does pursuit of victory at any price exhort too high a price? politicians, political parties are media that fail to condemn these tactics as well as broadcasters that air these ads and the consultants who make them are all complicit in the kochs' immorality. mr. president, this is the truth. this is the truth. what is going on with these two brothers who made billions of dollars last year in an attempt to buy our democracy is does
honest, deceptive, false and unfair. just because you have huge amounts of money you should not be able to run these false, misleading ads by the hundreds of millions of dollars. they hide behind all kinds of entities, mr. president,. it's just their front organization, americans for prosperity. but they give money to all kinds of organizations, lots of money. you see, when you make billions of dollars a year you can be as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be. it's too bad that they're trying to buy america and it's time that the american people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-american as anyone that i can imagine. mr. wicker: would the gentleman yield the floor? the presiding officer: the senator from mississippi is
recognized. mr. wicker: i thank the presiding officer. mr. president, i wanted to rise briefly this afternoon to join my colleagues in expressing deep disappointment with yet another decision by the obama administration to undermine the health care options of millions of americans. as we all know, the president promised if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. but his law's drastic cuts to medicare and medicare advantage are creating an impossible environment for americans to keep their insurance plans or to keep their doctors. even more troubling is that the funds raided from medicare will be spent on the president's flawed health care law. in particular, medicare
advantage serves more than 15 million american senior citizens. including some 56,000 mississippians. it is a program that neverrizes market-based competition and patient choice. these are two elements that have made it both popular and successful. nearly one-third of all medicare patients voluntarily enroll in this type of health care plan, and 95% of medicare advantage members rate their quality of care as very high. independent reports show that seniors will see their plans canceled, they'll see higher premiums and fewer choices because of these severe cuts to medicare and medicare advantage. i've heard from health care professionals in mississippi who are concerned about the law's negative impact on patient care. mr. president, i came to the floor earlier this week to speak
about the profound human cost of the president's health care law. it is past time for the president and his allies in congress to recognize the devastating consequences of obamacare. delaying and changing the law, which the administration has done some two dozen times with questionable legal authority, i might add, will not fix the damage. mr. president, this is a law that just doesn't work. the solution is to repeal and replace obamacare with market-driven reforms that empower americans to decide which health care options are best for them. we can do better than this law and we owe it to the american people to do so. thank you, mr. president. i yield the floor and i would suggest the absence of a quorum.
the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
quorum call:
a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the
senator from oklahoma is recognized. a senator: i ask the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. coburn: it is my understanding we're not going to be allowed to offer amendments again on a significant bill that spends tens of billions of dollars to talk about a couple of amendments that i have. my staff recently talked with some veterans from oklahoma, and i want to give you an anecdote that just happened. this is about v.a. care. this is a lady, 100% disabled, veteran, who has had knee replacement at a v.a. hospital. she didn't have one knee replacement. she had two knee replacements. and then she had two knee replacements on the other knee. so if you look at the statistics on a knee replacement that has to be replaced, it's a very rare occurrence. but the fact that you'd have two knee replacements and both of
them have to be replaced, it's unheard of. the story doesn't end there. the story ends with the fact that during her second knee replacement, they broke her femur. they had to put a rod in to rod her femur. and when they put the implant in, she ended up with one leg an inch longer than the other leg. the fact is that this all occurred at a v.a. hospital, and it's unheard of that somebody who has a knee replacement on one side would have to have another one done because of a complication and then have the other knee done and have to have that knee redone because of a complication. but then on top of it, the skill of the surgeon in terms of doing a second replacement, having the rod and then putting the wrong rod in creating a leg length
discrepancy that can only be corrected now by her spending a significant amount of money on an orthotic shoe on the short leg which if you know anything about medicine, what that does is change the alignment of the spine which causes tremendous arthritis in the spine of that patient. so here's a patient, if you look across the world in the private sector, 99.9% of the time would not have to have had either of them replaced, wouldn't have to have a rod put in her femur and wouldn't have a leg length discrepancy. and i agree that's an anecdote but those are the kind of things we're not holding the v.a. to account for. so one of the amendments that i was going to offer to this bill was a very straightforward amendment requiring every six months that the v.a. publish in both their hospitals outpatient and nursing homes the quality of
their care. the mortality rates, the complication rates, the infection rates, the wait time in the emergency rooms, the wait times for a screening exam, the wait time for an endoscopy, complications associated with those so that veterans could actually see and compare to the private sector what every other hospital knows all this stuff and publishes it, so they can see and compare the quality of care. because we have an honor-bound commitment to offer care to those that have offered to sacrifice their life and their future for our freedom. and we're not going to be able to offer the first step in terms of accountability to the v.a. health system because we get to offer no amendments.
what if you knew, and this does not apply -- and i don't mean to denigrate the whole v.a. system because there are some great v.a. hospitals -- but in your area where you have to go, if you knew the quality was 20% or 25% less than what you could get in your own hometown, would you still go to a v.a. hospital? should veterans not know whether or not they're getting the standard of care that equates to what they can get in the private sector? they're not going to know because that's nowhere in terms of the accountability of the v.a. system that i talked about yesterday. the other amendment -- one of the other amendments that i was going to offer would be to strike section 301. the chairman of the committee yesterday referenced 302. he was actually talking about
section 308 of his bill, not section 302 of his bill. but when you expand v.a. health care to priority group 8 -- these are people who don't meet the income, have no disability, no service-connected disability and have no limited resources -- to put them into the v.a. health care system when we're not adequately treating the veterans who are eligible for service today in the v.a. health care system, what you're really doing is taking away our commitment to care for those that we've already promised care to so it's somewhat cynical that we would expand from six million to a potential of 22 million people into a system that is behind the curve already. the other thing that's important for that is that the care for
these nonservice-connected veterans was excluded from the v.a.'s priority group so that v.a. could focus -- focus -- its limited resources on our veterans with service-connected disabilities. in other words, they have a health complication because they served our country. as former secretary anthony principe said, remember when everyone is priority, no one is. and that is exactly what this bill will do. it will take the priority away from our service-connected veterans where they will fall farther through the cracks. the other thing in this section is the only thing worse than them being in the affordable care act which is what this
really specifically is designed is to take them out of the exchanges and put them into the v.a.. so what we're really saying under this bill, if euro a high -- if you're a high income nondisabled veteran, the only health care you have available to you is the obamacare exchange, then you now qualify for v.a. services. what is that about? what that's about is moving to a single-payer, totally government-run health care system. and this is about moving 16 million veterans, or the potential of up to 16 million veterans to that position. so the only thing worse than being covered by the v.a. where veterans are waiting for weeks to see a doctor and literally dying because of medical deficiencies is being in an
affordable care act exchange. that amendment -- this amendment would strike the expansion from the legislation which would ensure that the v.a. remains focused on service-connected disabled and increasing the quality of care for more than six million veterans currently in the v.a. system. i want to talk a minute about why we did that. we created the v.a. health care system for those that have a complication of their service, a complication of their service. do we have a commitment, one, to ensure that those that have a complication from their service get the care that we have promised them? i believe we do. section 301 would markedly
minimize that commitment to those that have a complication from their service. so how is it that we come about, that we have this great big v. bill on the floor -- v.a. bill on the floor without any oversight, aggressive oversight on holding the v.a. accountable to do what it's supposed to be doing now with a 59% increase in budget since october 1 of 2009 and expanded and blow it to an area where we're going to offer these same services where we're not meeting quality outcomes, we're not meeting timeliness outcome, we're not meeting care outcomes, and we're going to put that on the v.a. system? i would say the better way to honor our veterans who have a complication associated with their service is to hold the
v.a. accountable through transparency of their quality. here's the other thing that hadn't been studied, and we don't know the answer to this. i certainly don't know it. i can't find it anywhere. it's, what does it cost to do an "x" procedure in a v.a. hospital totally absorbed versus doing it in a non-v.a. hospital? would the american taxpayer be better -- let's assume quality is the same. would the american taxpayer be better off if we delivered that at a cost that's much less? but nobody has asked for those numbers. the v.a. can't give those numbers. the v.a. doesn't know those numbers. and so we're driving blind. we don't know what it costs to do a total knee in a v.a. hospital. we do know what it costs in oklahoma city from every
hospital. as a matter of fact, there's a wonderful hospital in oklahoma city that advertises every pies price, all their complications, everything else out there. they have come from all across the country coming because they're so much cheaper and better than what people in the private market can get done where they live. let's see how v.a. costs and quality and outcomes compare to that, because if you really want to drive quality for you are a veterans, we have got to have accountability in terms of how we spend the money, accountability in terms of the outcomes, accountability in terms of quality and accountability in terms of the service. the other amendment that i have would allow service-connected veterans who are driving hundreds of miles in my state to get care a pilot program which would allow them to go anywhere they wanted to, to their home towrntion to the nexhometown, t,
if it is bigger and better to get their care at a v.a. hospital. and we would cover it under medicare rates. since we don't know the cost ramifications of what we do at v.a. clinics and v.a. hovments - v.a. hospitals in terms of the total absorbed costs, but we do know what the cost would be if we had medicare rates, my learned opinion is that, number one, veterans would have access to care closer to home, probably improved quality, and most probably a decreased cost for the federal government -- i.e., the american taxpayers -- in terms of middle easting this honor-bound -- in meeting this honor-bound commitment to our veterans. if in fact you served this country and one of the benefits of serving this country and you have a service-connected disability associated with that is a promise of quality health
care, why do we say you can only get it in a v.a. clinic or a v.a. hospital? why cants get -- if you served our country, why can't you get it wherever you want? you served our country to preserve our freedom of choice, our freedom do and select what's best for us i and our interests. why can't a veteran have that privilege that he fought for or she fought for and put their rear ends on the line for? why do we not avail them of the freedom that they sacrificed f for? nobody will answer that question. nobody will come down and answer that question. those are knowable answers. they're moral questions. if you sacrifice, should you not have the benefits of the freedom that -- forbe whic for which y
sacrificed? the other problem with this bill is it has a false pay-for. money that we might have spent son a war in afghanistan because we're not going to spend it, we're going to call it here and call that a pay-for. it's not a paivmen a pay-for. doesn't pass muster. doesn't pass the budget point of order. everybody knows that. what we ought to be doing, instead of having this bill on the floor, we ought to have a bill on the floor that holds the v.a. accountable, that creates transparency in the v.a. so that everybody in the country, including the veterans, can see outcomes, quality, and costs, and finally we ought to give the veterans the freedom that they fought for, that if they are deserving of this benefit, they ought to be able to get the benefit anywhere they choose,
because they're the ones that preserved the rights and the abilities and the capabilities for us to experience the freedom to make choices for ourselves. with that, mr. president, i yield the floor and notice the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
the presiding officer: the senior senator from north carolina is recognized. mr. burr: i ask unanimous consent to vitiate the quorum call. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. burr: mr. president, i km t-- i come to the floor as the ranking member of the veterans' affairs committee as we consider
s. 1982, the sanders bill. i have been down to the floor several times, and i won't take up a lot of the senate's valuable time right now, but i do want to cover some things that have transpired since the last time i was on the floor today, where i read from an editorial that was written by concerned veterans of america. the group was challenged by some of my colleagues here as to whether it was a front group, whether this was a political front group. let me assure my colleagues, it represents real veterans. but if an effort to try to debunk the belief that this is just about one political group, i want to read something from another editorial written by steven hickey of amvets. now, nobody can question whether amvets is a legitimate veterans service organization. it has been around a while and
i'll be selective in my reading. "while we ga agree the bill addresses many important solutions, we do not support this bill for eferl reasons. it would be morally irresponsible and fiscally unsound given the historical volatile situation in afghanistan to hand the funding for such robust legislation on any potential peace dividend. throwing more money upwards of $30 billion and taking it from war funds has no less at the failing department will only make matters worse. this kitchen sink-lick bill also endiffers to be all things to all veterans and is very enticing to all of us veteran service organizations as the panacea for all of our legislative agendas. the problem is, in its current
configuration, it has little to no chance of passage. it's just too pie in the sky and lacks the power base for providing excellent cared and services to veterans currently beinaccessing the system." it goes on to say, "we all want what's best for the veterans community, and many of the provisions in s. 1982 are positive. however, bigger doesn't mean better." and the sanders bill further expands the v.a. system that is already overwhelmed and cannot meet the current needs of veterans. before overcommitting the department of veterans affairs and subjecting our veterans to more broken promises, congress should rally on legislation that keeps the promises already made." yet another veterans service organization that says, reform the veterans administration.
dr. coburn -- dr. coburn from oklahoma, senator from oklahoma. i'm talking about horror stories within the veterans facilities. i say to my colleagues, you know, the mistake here is that we're not on the floor debating the reform of the v.a. and then debating any expansion. but the fact is we look at editorial after editorial, people who have some contact with the v.a., and they're saying the last thing you should do is expand service, the last thing you should do is use gimmicks to pay for it, the last thing you should do is saddle our kids with not only the debt for it but the responsibility to uphold a promise that might be impossible. let me speak a little further on what some of the things dr. coburn hit on.
this is about hospital delays and veterans dying in v. facilities. came down earlier and i might add right now that this is the stack of the inspector general of the v.a. for one year -- one year -- worth of investigations on v.a. facilities where they made specific recommendations of changes that had to be made. this dealt with the death of veterans, it dealt with legion yairs disease, it dealt with things as simple as one patient using a disposable insulin pen, something meant for one patient that was used for multiple patients, exposing them to potential illnesses. now, if the question of do we
keep the promise of the quality of care to our veterans, if that's not important enough, let me go to the veterans that are in the system trying for the first time to get a disability rating, because of a service-connected disability. the number of claims pending in america right now is 673,000 veterans. these are individuals that have filed a claim with the veterans administration that are waiting in line for the determination to be made what percentage of those claims they will approve. the number of claims that are considered backlogged right now: 389,000 veterans claims. and once a veteran receives a
disability rating, if in fact they feel that the v.a. has come to the wrong conclusion as to the percentage, they file an appeal. the number of appeals pending: 272,000 appeals. so one can conclude from this, the number of claims pending -- --673,000, plus $272,000 -- there are over a million veterans waiting fo for the sort o. out their disability status. the number of days to complete a claim: 265 days. let me say that again. 265 days to complete a claim. and right now claims pending: 673,000. the number of days for an appeal
that is pending: 600 days. 600. so let's just say, of that million claims that are eithe appealed, which is a million veterans, the number of days to complete the claim, average, took 265 dayser. the number of days for appeal, average, over 600. we're now at 800 days. that's almost three years. i -- i hope my colleagues are understanding what i'm saying. we have a severely dysfunctional veterans administration today. we've got a population of warriors who are coming out of the battlefield in afghanistan. they're coming back from deployments. they leave the service. they file for disability.
they wait. they wait. they wait. they wait. and when they finally get the disability claim and they're going to the v.a., now all of a sudden we're talking about dumping millions of additional veterans into the line with them. my good friend and chairman, senator sanders, said we can handle this because we have got 27 clinics, outpatient facilities in this bill that under a lease agreement we're going to build out. 27 facilities. they are for the veterans we have got today. we don't have enough facilities to handle what the current population is. he said this could handle the millions that are going to come in. let me remind my colleagues once again, currently we have $14 billion worth of veterans' construction under way. we appropriate about $1 billion
a year. that's a 14-year backlog on the construction of these facilities. and none of the 27 leases that are in this bill will be ready on december of 2014 when the enactment of this legislation takes place. there is one other area of massive expansion other than the veterans with nonservice-connected disabilities, and that's to a program called our caregivers program. now, i'm pretty passionate about this because i wrote the legislation, and my good friend who is no longer here, who was chairman of the senate veterans committee, senator akaka, became a champion of it. and i read earlier senator akaka's statements on this floor, the united states senate floor the day it was passed, and
he stated as clearly as anybody ever has why we limited this to a demonstration project, why we rolled it out to a small group, and our intention was as the v.a. picks, reformed, was capable of implementing a plan that expanded that caregiver program, that we would do that but not a day sooner. now all of a sudden we're not just talking about extending the caregiver program to every current era veteran. senator sanders' bill extends it to every era. every era that served that's alive will be eligible for caregivers. on occasion he has pointed to the wounded warrior program. let me read from a letter the wounded warrior organization sent to the committee when this legislation was being considered. where they said more than two years after initial implement
ation, v.a. still has not answered or remedied the problems and concerns that the wounded warrior program and other advocates raised regarding the department's implementing regulations. for example, those regulations leave appeals rights unaddressed, including appeals from adverse determinations of law, set unduly strict criteria for determining a need for caregivers for veterans with severe behavioral health conditions and invite arbitrary and inconsistent decisionmaking. simply extending the scope of current law at this point to caregivers of other veterans would inadvertently signal to the v.a. that we acquiesced in its flawed implementation of the law. we, wounded warrior, recommend that the committee insist on v.a. resolving these long-standing concerns as a precondition to extending the
promise of this law to caregivers of pre-9/11 veterans. now, if there's one thing i have made perfectly clear yesterday and today, there is nothing in this bill that reforms the v.a. look at any area of the legislation. there is no reform, yet editorials from service organizations, letters from wounded warrior project, and they were -- make no mistake, they were behind caregivers, and their letter to the chairman said don't do this until it's fixed. well, we're where we are, and to suggest that all veterans, all veterans' organizations, all organizations deal with veterans are for this, it is inconsistent
with the paper trail that exists. letters, editorials. there's one thing that doesn't go away. what doesn't go away is, one, the need to reform, and, two, the promise we made to our country's warriors. you have got to ask yourself are we better off fixing v.a. before we enlarge the population or after we enlarge the population? i can answer it for you. it's tough to do now, and it's not going to happen without congressional leadership. but if you take and expand the population and you dump it on a system that's physically not capable of handling it,
administratively not capable of handling it, what do you say to those veterans that need the v.a. health care system that can't get in to see a primary care doctor? what do you say to the person who needs mental health treatment but yet can't see a psychiatrist, can't get in to be evaluated, doesn't get the medication they need? i media with my colleagues, don't make this mistake. there is an alternative bill. it's taken from the sanders bill it's 80% but it doesn't have the massive expansion. it doesn't reform but it really moves forward on some important issues. no matter what we do, at some point we're going to have to show the leadership to reform the v.a. why?
because we're going to keep our promise to veterans. the promise to veterans was we would provide them a quality of care that was unprecedented. i'm not sure there is a member of this body that believes that we can dump this pop layings onto the veterans administration and -- population onto the veterans administration and that we can look any veteran in the face and say we keep our promise to you. you have access, but it may be months from now. you may have the ability to go to the v.a., but we don't have any room in the -- in -- there is no room in the inn. these are all part of keeping your promises. i will go back to what amvet's editorial said and i will end with that because i see my colleagues here.
bigger is not necessarily better. when i gave these statistics on backlogs of claims, of appeals, these are veterans that aren't asking for bigger. they are asking for better. they are asking us to sort out this system and make it work in a way they deserve. all we do is exacerbate the problem if, in fact, we pass s. 1982. i urge my colleagues to support the alternative if we are given the opportunity to offer one. if not, then don't do this to our country's veterans. wait and let us reform the v.a. that's our responsibility. that is our promise. i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the senator from mississippi.
mr. wicker: mr. president, are we in morning business? what is the pending business? the presiding officer: the senator should be aware we're on the motion to proceed to senate 1982. mr. wicker: well, mr. president, with -- with the senate's permission, i -- i propose to speak, along with senator manchin, as if in morning business on another matter. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. wicker: thank you, sir. and, mr. president, i rise today to speak about a recently introduced bill regarding the future of puerto rico's political status, known as the puerto rico status resolution act. this legislation would call for an up-or-down resolution on the puerto rican statehood, including the option of puerto rico's current status of -- excluding the opposition of puerto rico's current status as a commonwealth.
the president and congress would have to proceed with the legislation if statehood receives a majority of votes. mr. president, i support puerto rico's right to self-determination. this is an issue that i have closely followed and been involved in for the better part of two decades. concern about the way we do statehood determination votes in puerto rico is an issue that has crossed party lines here in the congress. and i would say to my colleagues congress needs to make sure at a minimum that any process used to measure the intent of puerto rican voters is objective.
otherwise, the outcome will be neither fair nor a meaningful test of public opinion, and that's why it's so important not to exclude the option of the current commonwealth status. the status resolution act does not rise to the threshold of fairness or meaningful test of public opinion. there are two reasons for this, mr. president. first, the legislation has already been enacted -- there is legislation already enacted for a plebiscite on puerto rico's political status. the 2014 omnibus already includes funding for a plebiscite that would include all available options for political status, allowing puerto ricans the opportunity to choose a status besides statehood is in keeping with a recommendation from the white house task force released in 2011. secondly, the referendum
proposed by the status resolution act would have the same shortcomings as the plebiscite held on november 6, 2012. the results of that referendum were widely criticizeed, as well as was the tortured ballot designed by the party. of the 1.9 million puerto ricans who participated in the referendum, only 834,191 or about 44% favored statehood. only 44% favored statehood, mr. president. close to half a million voters declined to respond to the second question on the ballot, evidencing their dissatisfaction with the choices offered. we need to offer better choices. the percentage of statehood supporters has not changed significantly over the past 20 years. it certainly does not serve as
an impetus for congress to entertain yet another admissions process now. elsewhere on the november 6 ballot that i referred to, public support was clear for the pro-commonwealth popular democratic party and the election of pro-commonwealth and antistatehood candidate alejandro garcia padilla as puerto rico's new governor. in fact, the commonwealth's legislature as a result of that election is now controlled by the pro-commonwealth party, as is the mayorship of san juan, the capital of the commonwealth. statehood advocates may attempt to manipulate ballots and election results to support their preferred outcome, but they do so at the expense of democratic -- of the democratic process and the right of every puerto rican to have a say in
the island's political future. the referendum process should be conducted in a fair and transparent manner that reflects the true will of the people. in the past, i have introduced legislation that would recognize puerto rico's right to convene a constitutional convention, a process that could help build consensus rather than advance the exclusive agenda of one political party over the other. for commonwealth supporters, puerto rico's current status is instrumental to preserving the island's rich heritage and maintaining the authority needed to address specific needs. the status resolution act not only has the potential to trample on people's rights, but it also distracts from the island's pressing economic and security concerns. in conclusion, congress and the obama administration should continue to strengthen the partnership between puerto rico
and the united states in constructive ways instead of encouraging a shortsighted and flawed referendum. puerto rico faces economic energy and public safety challenges that have a direct impact on the quality of life of its residents. joint efforts to restore economic growth, modernize energy resources, and reinforce strategies for combating drug trafficking, could have a big impact. i am encouraged by proposed reforms and i wish the best to governor garcia padilla and the early days of his term in office. mr. president, i hope the senate will not attempt to impose a solution from washington, d.c. on puerto rican
voters. a solution that would be contrary to the public opinion of inhabitants of the island. i'm glad to be joined today, and i will soon yield the floor, to my colleague from west virginia, who serves on the energy and natural resources committee, which exercises jurisdiction over matters relating to puerto rico. and i would now yield the floor to my colleague, senator manchin, and ask him to comment on a recent study by the g.a.o. on puerto rico's economy and the potential effects of statehood and i yield the floor to my colleague. mr. manchin: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from west virginia. mr. manchin: thank you very much. i want to thank my colleague, senator wicker, for his concern and long concern about the puerto rican status and how they can govern themselves and work independently. and as you can tell, this is a
partisan concern that we have here working very closely together, and as you mentioned, senator wicker, the government accountability office is currently working on a report that examines puerto rico's economy and the cost of admitting puerto rico as a state. i look forward to seeing the results of that report. mr. president, in light of the fact that we still await the go report, in addition to a number of other reasons, i share senator wicker's concerns about the puerto rico status act. on august 1 of last year, the energy and natural resource committee which has jurisdiction over puerto rico issues, held a hearing on the political status of puerto rico, where we had the opportunity to hear from governor padilla, commissioner periluizi, the president of the puerto rican independence party, ruben barrias and i appreciate their willingness to
discuss the status and their willingness to to to work with the committee members. i support puerto rico's right to self-determination, however, i have voiced my concerns that the 2012 plebiscite did not meet our democratic respect standards of fairness and exclusivity and more than 470,000 puerto ricans who left the ballot's second question blank would seem to share my concerns also. we need a process with the support of all puerto ricans regardless of their beliefs and political status. supporters of statehood argue about the constitutionality of different status options. crafting a plebiscite, however, which excludes all options except statehood as the puerto rico status resolution does, is not the solution. is not the solution. the 2014 omnibus includes
funding for a plebiscite that would be proctored by the department of justice, who can author taiflly decide on the constitutionality of all possible status options. further, both those who are pro-commonwealth and those who are pro-statehood have expressed support for this process. this is not true of the 2012 plebiscite nor the puerto rico status resolution. politically, status is not the only issue facing puerto rico. the commonwealth has faced more than half a decade of economic recession and high unemployment, as well as exceptionally high utility costs and continued obstacles to economic development. as a former governor i have great respect for governor padilla and the challenges he is up against. unlike many of our own states in our country. in a meeting with him i have had the opportunity to hear directly
about the enormous economic difficulties he has tackled and his -- in his short time as governor. in my understanding the 2014 budget would reduce the projected deficit. general expenses were down by nearly $200 million during the second half of last year and expected revenue is up. the governor has made these efforts with the goal of having a balanced budget by 2015, something we could all work towards. a goal that i applaud as you know, as i understand and have seen progress is being made. the senate should do everything that we can to encourage economic development across our country, including in the commonwealth of puerto rico. we need to work as partners in the con -- in confronting its high energy costs, double-digit unemployment and continuing
resolution. as we support self-determination, we should ensure that our focus on political status does not prevent us from addressing the immediate economic needs of the commonwealth of puerto rico. i want to thank you for the time to speak and join my colleague on this important issue and senator wicker, i look forward for your support of a fair and open process in looking forward to working with you on this. mr. wicker: mr. president -- the presiding officer: the senator from mississippi. mr. wicker: thank you, mr. president. let me congratulate my colleague from west virginia on his remarks, and in closing make three observations. despite the economic hardships of the region, the economy of puerto rico is the strongest of any -- of any of our -- of the caribbean islands. and this has occurred under
commonwealth status. this special relationship that puerto ricans have with the united states, as united states citizens but with their separate identity on the island. secondly, i would point out that some of the most vocal pro-commonwealth voices in this congress are puerto rican americans who happen to have been elected to the united states congress from the states. and they speak also and have spoken also with authority in favor of the commonwealth concept but also in favor of a fair and accurate election. and then just to drive home a point that senator manchin and i have made, on election day in 2012, 1.9 million puerto ricans
showed up to vote. in that election, the pro-commonwealth candidate for governor was elected, the pro-commonwealth candidate for mayor of san juan was elected, and a majority of the legislature of the island that day turned out to be pro-commonwealth. and as flawed as the plebiscite was, the fact remains that of the 1.9 million american citizens in puerto rico who voted, who showed up to vote, only 44% of them cast a ballot in favor of statehood. that is a figure that cannot be controverted. 1.9 million people showed up to vote, american citizens in puerto rico, and only 44% of
them checked the box for statehood. so as we go forward and as we implement the provisions of the omnibus act, let's make sure that whatever we do, we have the facts, as senator manchin has pointed out, and also we have a process to accurately reflect the will of the puerto rican people. and i thank you, mr. president. and i yield the floor. i suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
mr. sanders: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from vermont. mr. sanders: i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. sanders: mr. president, i have talked to a number of my republican colleagues, some of them who have expressed support for many of the provisions in this comprehensive veterans bill. many of my republican colleagues say that they would really like to support the bill but they have concerns about how it is paid for and the issue of deficit, increasing the
deficit. so let me say a word about this. unlike many expenditures, including the wars in iraq and afghanistan, the truth is that this bill will not add one penny to the deficit. and let me repeat, this bill will not add one penny to the deficit. the congressional budget office, the nonpartisan scorekeeper, has estimated that mandatory spending in this legislation will total $2.88 billion over the next decade. all of this mandatory spending is completely offset, not by the overseas contingency operations or o.c.o., but through more than $4.2 billion in actual savings from programs within the jurisdiction of the senate veterans' affairs committee. as a result, c.b.o. has determined that overall
mandatory spending -- mandatory spending in this bill will be reduced, will be reduced, by more than $1.3 billion. in addie mandatory spending, this bill authorizes $18.3 billion in discretionary spending over the next five years to improve the lives of our nation's veterans and their families. mr. president, as you know, there is no rule of the senate that an authorization of funding, an authorization of funding has to be offset. in essence, the discretionary spending provisions in the legislation that we are debating today are just recommendations on how much additional funding we believe is needed for our nation's veterans. it will be up to future legislation originating in the appropriations committee to approve or disapprove of these
recommendations. in other words, the veterans' committee is an authorizing committee. the final decisions in terms of expenditures are made by the appropriations committee. many of my republican colleagues have insisted that even recommendations of new spending, spending that may never actually happen because it has to go through the appropriations committee, that those expenditures be offset. i have done my best to listen to their concerns and have come up with an offset that will not add to the deficit over the next decade. specifically, mr. president, the discretionary spending authorized under this bill is paid for by using savings from winding down the wars in iraq and afghanistan, otherwise known as the ogo fund. c.b.o. estimates spending for overseas contingency operations
will total $1.025 trillion over the next decade, a little bit more than $1 trillion. spending as a result of this legislation will be a tiny fraction of that amount, less than 2%. mr. president, ogo funds are designed very broadly, very broadly, to be used to fund war-related activities. in my view, it is totally consistent with the goals of that funding source to provide support for the men and women who have defended us in those wars. in recent years these funds have provided assistance to syrian refugees and have helped the people of haiti recover from a massive earthquake. that's ogo funding. further, since 2005, the defense department has used this funding for child-care centers, hospitals, traumatic brain injury research, orthopedic
equipment, hospitals and schools. in 2010, $50 million in funds were used for the guam improvement enterprise fund. $50 million in ogo funds were used for the guam kpwraouplt enterprise -- improvement enterprise fund. last year funds were allocated to egypt, jordan, kazakhstan, kenya, lebanon, somalia, south sudden -- sudan, uzbekistan and yemen. last year the funds were used for trafficking in persons related to labor migration in the kazak republic and establish a tunesia american enterprise fund. in 2011, $89.3 million was used by the national guard to support the southwest border of the
united states. this years $2818 million in ogo funding is being used for the tricare health care funding. some of the ways that in the past ogo funding has been used. mr. president, i'm not here to argue about the wisdom of any of those expenditures. many of them may well be valid. but what i will say is that the needs of our veterans are also valid. and if we can spend ogo funds for the guam improvement enterprise fund, i think we can use ogo funds to protect the interests of our veterans. again, this expenditure is less than 2% of the savings from ending the wars in iraq and
afghanistan. less than 2%. mr. president, i've heard my friends on the other side of the aisle call this a budget gimmick. i disagree. republicans and democrats in the house and senate have voted several times to kaupbt war-relate -- to count war-related savings as a reduction in the deficit. for example, virtually every republican in the house and senate voted for the fiscal year 2012 budget resolution introduced by representative paul ryan that counted $1 trillion in deficit reduction from -- quote -- "phasing down overseas contingency operations ." end of quote. that is what i'm saying. that is what the heritage foundation points out. if the savings from winding down wars can be counted as deficit reduction, clearly we owe it to our nations' veterans to use a
very small percentage of this fund to make their lives just a little bit better at home. mr. president, placing modest caps on overseas contingency operations, oco funding, to pay for the most comprehensive veterans legislation in a decade to me is a no-brainer. this money was always intended to ensure the well-being and success of those brave men and women who have served our great country. finally, mr. president, i think we should be very, very clear that the cost of war does not end once the last shots are fired and the last battles are fought. but members of the military lose arms, legs, eyesight, come back with ptsd or t.b.i. fighting in wars that congress authorize, we have a moral obligation to make
sure that those veterans receive all of the benefits that they have earned and deserve. when american soldiers die in combat, we have a moral obligation to make sure that the spouses and children they leave behind are taken care of as best as we possibly can. so, mr. president, that speaks to the funding of this legislation, and i would hope that we would have strong support from all of our colleagues, and with that, i yield the floor. mr. whitehouse: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from rhode island. mr. whitehouse: mr. president, let me thank the distinguished chairman of the veterans' committee for his remarks and for the relentlessness, the enthusiasm and the passion with which he has pursued putting together this extraordinarily strong bill for our veterans. i look forward to supporting it and i commend him for his excellent work.
i'm here because every week that the senate is in session, now for 59 weeks, i give my climate speech hoping that someday spark will hit tinder. i could give a whole separate speech about the evil done by the supreme court citizens united decision and i could give a whole separate speech about the gridlock that bedevils the senate. but this week's climate speech will touch all three: citizens united, gridlock, and climate change. to show you how the three are connected. we fail here in this senate to address climate change because of the peculiar gridlock in
congress. and congress is peculiarly gridlocked because of the evils of citizens united. our failure to address climate change is a symptom of things gone wrong in our democracy. i have spoken before on the senate floor about the supreme court's citizens united decision, one of the worst and most disgraceful decisions ever made by the supreme court. destined to follow cases like lockner versus new york on to the ash heap of judicial infamy. but we're stuck with it now until supreme court gets its bearings back, their citizens united stands. in a nutshell, the citizens united decision says this. corporations are people.
money is speech. so there can be no limit to corporate money influencing american elections under constitutional principles of freedom of speech. if that doesn't seem right, it's because it's not. to unleash that corporate power in our elections, the conservative justices had to go through some pretty remarkable contortions. they had to reverse previous decisions by the court that it said the opposite. they had to make up facts that are demonstrably flat-out wrong. they had to create a make-believe world of independence and transparency in election spending. and they had to maneuver their own judicial procedures to prevent a factual record that would belie those facts they were making up.
it was a dirty business with a lot of signs of intention, and it has produced evil results. let's start with the contortions the conservative justices had to go through to uncork all that corporate money. they had to first make the leap that corporations are people and money is speech to ensure that corporate money is protected by the first amendment. they went a more circuitous route than that, but that's where they ended up, and that's quite a leap when you think of how suspicious the founding fathers were of corporations and that there is no mention of corporations in the constitution. so much for these conservative justices fidelity to originalism, a constitutional theory the stefrbts put a -- the
conservatives put a lot of credence in when it suits them. to treat corporations as people and money as speech, the conservative justices also had to overrule previous supreme court decisions that had said the exact opposite, which they did. upending a century of law. so much for fidelity to precedent. the conservative bloc then had to deal with the inconvenience that first amendment doctrine actually allows the government to regulate elections, to protect against either political corruption or even the appearance of corruption. so how do you take away the people's ability to restrain corporate money in elections
when protecting against corruption is a legitimate reason for restraints on corporate money? what you do and what they did is decide by making a finding of fact, a finding of fact that corporations' money would not corrupt elections or politics. indeed, that no amount of corporate money could even appear to corrupt elections or politics. so much for if fidelity to the judicial rule that appellate courts, state or federal, are not supposed to engage in fact finding. this fact finding about corruption by the conservative justices caused another little inconvenience. the assertion that corporate
money can't corrupt politics is laughably false. that meant that the conservatives couldn't allow a factual record in the case. a factual record with testimony and evidence about such a ludicrous proposition would have blown it out of the water. so, they let the little narrow citizens united case get all the way through the judicial process, including briefing and argument before them, and then they went back and changed the question into a big one. this clever maneuver at the very end of the case guaranteed that there would be no factual record developed on the new and larger question. and that freed their hand. i should emphasize that this was
a third transgression. the first transgression was for conservatives to ignore their own constitutional theory of originalism in getting into the money and speech result. the second transgression was violating the judicial rule that appellate courts aren't supposed to engage in fact finding at all, let alone ludicrous fact finding. the third transgression was this maneuver with the question presented. as a general rule when cases come to a supreme court, state or federal, the court defines the questions presented by the case. this may not seem like a big deal, just something in the ordinary course, but it's actually an important limit on judicial power under our constitutional separation of powers. it's what prevents a supreme court from roving willy-nilly into any question it wants
anytime. courts have to wait until a case comes that presents a particular question, and then they identify what the question is. so it was odd, indeed, when the chief justice went back, after the case was briefed and argued, and did his own new question presentive. but it did the job. now the court, with no record saying otherwise, could pretend that corporate money just plain can't corrupt american elections. can't do it, no way, no how. the conservative immaculate conception of corporate money. pretending that corporate money just couldn't possibly corrupt or even appear to corrupt american elections allowed them
to sweep away any interest of the people in keeping corporate corruption out of our politics and elections. people don't need to worry their little heads about corruption, they said. corporate money in elections is immaculate and can't corrupt. and, bingo, that got them where they wanted. we, the people, could no longer limit corporate spending in our elections. and as we've seen, the big money began to flood in. citizens united actually gets worse in how transparent it was going to be whose money was really behind all those negative ads. independent? transparent? heh ... look at the last
elections. how did that work out? subsequent history shows the falsity of that nonsense. and those contortionist justices completely ignored a big, important fact: what big money can do, big money can threaten to do or promise to do. and there's going to be nothing independent or transparent about those private threats and promises. the citizens united decision opened this avenue to corruption while pretending corruption was impossible. so on to the next step: how do the evils of this citizens united decision lead to the evils of gridlock? well, just look around. look at who is scared of whom, and look at who is angry at whom
around here. democrats and republicans actually get along pretty well. at least democrats and most republicans. we're policy anniversarie advery things, but democrats and republicans have been policy adversaries for decades. democrat versus republican is old news. it doesn't explain the new weirdness around here. so look at what you see. the real fear and the real anger around here is between the mainstream republicans and the tea party extremists. look around. ask around. where do emotions run high? where are the shouting matches? where are the insults hurled?
where are senators heckled by their colleagues? the worst of it is not between democrat and republican. it's between tea party and republican. who is being told how they can and cannot vote and what they can and cannot say? who's being bullied and punished when they don't follow the party line? the tea party line? not democrats. republicans. and no one likes being bullied. is it the irrefutable logic of tea party argument that scarce regular republicans? is it the clear grasp by the tea party of modern economic, cultural, and sign be tsk realities that scares -- and scientific realities that scares regular republicans? is it the broad way that the tea party represents our broad and
diverse democracy that scares regular republicans? is it the convene political acumen of the tea party, say, shutting down the u.s. government and darn near blowing the debt limit that scares leg republicans? those questions -- scares regular republicans? those questions answer themselves, don't they? no the thing that scares regular republicans is the big money, the big corporate money, the billionaire money behind the tea peampleparty.the couch brothers- the koch brothers may be out to make even more money, but when the koch brothers' big money comes in and bombs new a small primary election, it's pretty scary. and when the paid-for right-wing attack machine turns on you in your republican primary, that
can be pretty scary. so the gridlock comes when the republican party won't work with democrats, not because we don't make sense and not because most republicans don't want to make sense, but because they're scared of tea party attacks funded by citizens united money, and that brings us to climate change. where, as i have described in a recent speech, tens -- perhaps even hundreds of millions -- of dark money dollars are being spent. is all that money being spent having any effect on republicans? just look. in this body, we have republican
colleagues who have publicly acknowledged in the past carbon-driven climate change and have called for legislative action. in this body we have a former republican presidential nominee who campaigned for president on addressing climate change. in this body we have republicans who have spoken favorably about charging a fee on carbon, including the republican original cosponsor of a bipartisan carbon pollution fee bill. we have a republican colleague who cosponsored climate change legislation when he was in the house and another who voted for the waxman-markey cap-and-trade bill when he was in the house. in this body we have senators who represent historic villages
now washing into the sea and needing relocation because of climate change and sea level rise. and senators who represent great american coastal cities now overwashed by the sea at high tides because of the climate change. we have republican senators whose home state forests by the hundreds of square nils miles -y the hundreds of square miles are being killed by the maw marauding. and glaciers that are disappearing before their own eyes in their own lifetimes and republican senators whose own statestates are having to raid offshore ridges and highways before the rising seas. we have republican voters who actually get that climate change is real. it's the tea party that's the deniers. 61% of nontea party republicans
say there is solid evidence the earth is warming, that only 25% of tea parties agree. a 36-point swing between republicans and tea partiers. republicans outside of congress, immune from the effects of citizens united, have actually supported a carbon pollution fee as long as it's revenue-neutral and doesn't add to big government. you could actually lower other taxes with it. but republicans in congress will now scarcely say a word about climate change. not since citizens united, not since that disgraceful decision uncorked all that big, dark money and allowed it to cast its shadow of intimidation over our
democracy. so that's how citizens united connects to climate change. while our american democracy suffers and stalls, the evidence of climate change relentlessly mounts. the damage will be done in our atmosphere and oceans. the damage has already started. and i have to warn my colleagues that the denier machinery, the beast i described earlier this month, will ultimately be shown for the evil apparatus of lies that it is. when that happens, there will be more damage to go around. there will be damage to a party that allowed itself to be taken over and silenced by that corrupt apparatus, ignoring the
plain facts in front of their faces. there will be damage to a supreme court that went through such peculiar contortions to let that dark money loose, ignoring plain facts in front of their faces. and we, we americans, will hold our lamp high to the rest of the world as a beacon of democracy. we will have some explaining to do, how we, to the dismay of the rest of the world, let our great democracy be stifled by greedy polluters, ignoring the plain facts that the world faces. the historian david mccullough spoke at the library of congress
two weeks ago about john adams and america's founding generation. he reminded us that those men, when they signed the declaration of independence, were signing their own death warrants. when they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to this cause, it was not mere words. david mccullough explained, it was a courageous time. it was a courageous time. and look at us, our great democracy mired in polluters'
lies and muddy. but i still believe this can be a courageous time. as americans have in the past, we can shed the shackles of corrupting influence and rise to our duty. it just takes courage to make this a courageous time. i yield the floor. i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
quorum call: